Skip to main content

AWS security: using the tools of your trade

Don’t ignore AWS security resources!

AWS securityThe AWS cloud was designed and architected with security in mind. It is trusted by some of the world’s biggest brands, who feel they’ve chosen a world­ class protected infrastructure on which to run their businesses.
Because you’re building your systems on top of AWS, you have to remember that security responsibilities are shared: AWS secures the underlying infrastructure and you must secure anything you build on top of it and the services you use.
This post will cover AWS security practices that are critically important for all users, as well as where you can find more information about compliance and security processes.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

The first and most important task in AWS security is properly caring for your root account and IAM users.
Your AWS root account is accessed when you log in using the email address and password you specified when you signed up. This login has full access to all account resources, including billing and the ability to actually close the account.
Because the root account has such frightening power, you are effectively giving up the keys to your whole operation whenever anyone else gets access – whether you knowingly let them in or, through neglect, fail to prevent their unwelcome entry. It is highly advised not to use your root account in day-­to-­day operations and take advantage of IAM Users instead.
There have been well documented incidents of AWS root account breaches that directly brought about the permanent demise of entire companies.
Never lose sight of the fact that the root account is critical to your AWS security.
Through IAM, you have complete control over every level of access to AWS services and resources. You should create an IAM user with administrator­-level permissions for your day-­to-­day administrative tasks.
Additionally, if you require multiple users to access your AWS account, you should create individual IAM Users, each with their own unique credentials, and create granular permissions defining who has access to which resources. This allows you to follow the AWS security best-practices of role separation and least privilege. “Least privilege” means allowing all users access to only the very narrowest range of resources that are absolutely necessary, thus reducing your exposure to possible threats.

Multi­Factor Authentication (MFA)

While having a strong and secure password for your account and all your users is important, this alone doesn’t provide you with enough protection for the sensitive data and services for which you might be responsible.
AWS MFA adds a second layer of protection, prompting for an authentication code – which is sent to some pre-configured mobile device like a smart phone – on top of your password. This is known as a second authentication factor ­ (something you have: an MFA device) that works alongside your first authenticator factor (something you know: your password).
You can enable MFA for your root account as well as for individual IAM users. AWS supports three types of MFA form factors: ­ virtual MFA (mobile applications), hardware key fobs, and hardware display card devices.
There are businesses that practice strict AWS security policies requiring root accounts to be protected by a hardware token that is secured and locked in a safe.

AWS Security best-practices

These practices should be followed by the administrators of any AWS account: large or small. In general, however, you should remember that traditional security best-practices still apply, and should be applied in all the normal ways. Areas of particular concern include data encryption on the fly and at rest, protection from man­-in­-the­-middle attacks, regularly applying security patches, log collection, and system monitoring.
Since AWS was built and continues to evolve with security in mind, you have many built­-in tools at your disposal that will help you, including VPC firewalls, private subnets, server­side data encryption, security logs, AWS CloudTrail, and dedicated AWS connections.
Readers responsible for data security on AWS are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with AWS Security Best Practices and AWS Security Center.

Written by

Alexander Alimovs

Alex is passionate about cloud computing, startups and full-stack web development, with background in fintech and financial services industry. Certified and experienced in architecting, developing and operating scalable, secure environments on Amazon Web Services. Currently at a London-based startup he's working on the world's first and only PoochPal app that allows you to find dogs and owners in your local area using your smartphone for walking, playing, or just meeting up.

Related Posts

Sanket Dangi
— February 11, 2019

WaitCondition Controls the Pace of AWS CloudFormation Templates

AWS's WaitCondition can be used with CloudFormation templates to ensure required resources are running.As you may already be aware, AWS CloudFormation is used for infrastructure automation by allowing you to write JSON templates to automatically install, configure, and bootstrap your ...

Read more
  • AWS
Andrew Larkin
— January 24, 2019

The 9 AWS Certifications: Which is Right for You and Your Team?

As companies increasingly shift workloads to the public cloud, cloud computing has moved from a nice-to-have to a core competency in the enterprise. This shift requires a new set of skills to design, deploy, and manage applications in the cloud.As the market leader and most mature p...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS certifications
Andrew Larkin
— November 28, 2018

Two New EC2 Instance Types Announced at AWS re:Invent 2018 – Monday Night Live

The announcements at re:Invent just keep on coming! Let’s look at what benefits these two new EC2 instance types offer and how these two new instances could be of benefit to you. If you're not too familiar with Amazon EC2, you might want to familiarize yourself by creating your first Am...

Read more
  • AWS
  • EC2
  • re:Invent 2018
Guy Hummel
— November 21, 2018

Google Cloud Certification: Preparation and Prerequisites

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has evolved from being a niche player to a serious competitor to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. In 2018, research firm Gartner placed Google in the Leaders quadrant in its Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service for the first time. In t...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
Khash Nakhostin
Khash Nakhostin
— November 13, 2018

Understanding AWS VPC Egress Filtering Methods

In order to understand AWS VPC egress filtering methods, you first need to understand that security on AWS is governed by a shared responsibility model where both vendor and subscriber have various operational responsibilities. AWS assumes responsibility for the underlying infrastructur...

Read more
  • Aviatrix
  • AWS
  • VPC
Jeremy Cook
— November 10, 2018

S3 FTP: Build a Reliable and Inexpensive FTP Server Using Amazon’s S3

Is it possible to create an S3 FTP file backup/transfer solution, minimizing associated file storage and capacity planning administration headache?FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a fast and convenient way to transfer large files over the Internet. You might, at some point, have conf...

Read more
  • Amazon S3
  • AWS
Guy Hummel
— October 18, 2018

Microservices Architecture: Advantages and Drawbacks

Microservices are a way of breaking large software projects into loosely coupled modules, which communicate with each other through simple Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).Microservices have become increasingly popular over the past few years. The modular architectural style,...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Microservices
Stuart Scott
— October 2, 2018

What Are Best Practices for Tagging AWS Resources?

There are many use cases for tags, but what are the best practices for tagging AWS resources? In order for your organization to effectively manage resources (and your monthly AWS bill), you need to implement and adopt a thoughtful tagging strategy that makes sense for your business. The...

Read more
  • AWS
  • cost optimization
Stuart Scott
— September 26, 2018

How to Optimize Amazon S3 Performance

Amazon S3 is the most common storage options for many organizations, being object storage it is used for a wide variety of data types, from the smallest objects to huge datasets. All in all, Amazon S3 is a great service to store a wide scope of data types in a highly available and resil...

Read more
  • Amazon S3
  • AWS
Cloud Academy Team
— September 18, 2018

How to Optimize Cloud Costs with Spot Instances: New on Cloud Academy

One of the main promises of cloud computing is access to nearly endless capacity. However, it doesn’t come cheap. With the introduction of Spot Instances for Amazon Web Services’ Elastic Compute Cloud (AWS EC2) in 2009, spot instances have been a way for major cloud providers to sell sp...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • SpotInst
Guy Hummel and Jeremy Cook
— August 23, 2018

What are the Benefits of Machine Learning in the Cloud?

A Comparison of Machine Learning Services on AWS, Azure, and Google CloudArtificial intelligence and machine learning are steadily making their way into enterprise applications in areas such as customer support, fraud detection, and business intelligence. There is every reason to beli...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • Machine Learning
Stuart Scott
— August 17, 2018

How to Use AWS CLI

The AWS Command Line Interface (CLI) is for managing your AWS services from a terminal session on your own client, allowing you to control and configure multiple AWS services.So you’ve been using AWS for awhile and finally feel comfortable clicking your way through all the services....

Read more
  • AWS